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How to Troubleshoot & When To Replace Light Switches

Many homes, especially older ones, have limited lighting, to begin with. So when a switch doesn’t turn on, it’s a big inconvenience. The fix could be simple, like a tripped circuit or a blown bulb, or there could be bigger problems at play. Parts wear out with use, and wires get loose.

When it comes to getting it fixed, it’s tempting to troubleshoot the problem yourself. Just remember that electricity is dangerous–deadly even. According to the CDC, more than 400 people in the US die every year from accidental electrocution. And many more sustain serious injuries. Electricians are specifically trained to fix dead outlets. But if you’re still inclined to investigate, here’s what to look for.

Check the Light Bulb First

Sometimes we overlook the easiest solution. If there is one bulb and it’s toast, the fixture won’t turn on. Fixing a flickering light could be as easy as tightening a bulb that’s making a poor connection.

Then Check the Electrical Panel

The electrical circuits in your home, including the lights, have a limit. If you overload a circuit with too many appliances, you can trip a breaker. It’s a safety mechanism that interrupts the circuit before something more serious happens. Sometimes a blown fuse needs to be replaced, and sometimes a tripped breaker needs to be reset. If the problem persists, you have a bigger electrical problem that needs to be investigated by a licensed professional.

How to Tell if the Switch Needs to Be Replaced

If bulbs and circuits are in good working order, the problem could be the light switch. Over time any switch will wear out simply from overuse. We all have different habits, such as turning lights on and off frequently, and there are likely some variables in the quality of workmanship when it comes to the electrical wiring in your home. So, while light switches do wear out over time, there is no expected lifespan of a light switch, and a one-year-old switch can be just as likely to fail as a 20-year-old switch.

Signs to look for:

  • Popping or Cracking
  • Looseness
  • Warm Switchplate Cover
  • Delayed Action Between Switch and Light

Common Types of Light Switches

The most common type of light switch in the home is a standard toggle or single-pole switch with a lever and an up or down position to signal on or off. But that’s not the only type of light switch you’re likely to encounter in your home.

  • Dimmers: Controls electrical voltage to a fixture providing variable light levels used for mood or energy-saving features.
  • Motion Sensors: As an alternative to a single-pole switch, these switches are designed to detect motion and turn on or off depending on the presence of people. Many homes use these switches for outdoor safety or security lighting.
  • Time Delay: A special type of switch set to a timer that turns on or of based on timer settings. While less common, these switches are sometimes used to create fixed schedules for TV use or enhance security by providing the appearance that someone is home.
  • Switched Outlet: A type of outlet that is wired to a switch. These configurations are common with lamps, allowing them to operate with a switch like hardwired light fixtures.

electrical-worker-carrying-wiresThe Takeaway on Troubleshooting Light Switches

Like anything in your home, the components that make up your light switches have a serviceable life. Heavy use, defects, and workmanship all factor into how many times you can flip the switch and turn on a light before something fails. If you’re dealing with a dead switch or something a little less consistent like flickering, crackling, delayed responses, it could be time to update your light switch.

Replacing a bad switch is usually straightforward. But variations in the age of wiring in your home or other factors easily complicate the task. Changing a light switch is still electrical work, and there is still a risk of injury or death if something goes wrong. A professional electrician can easily and safely repair your light switches, leaving you to enjoy your health and safety.

Livewire Electrical provides residential and commercial electrician services with a customer focus to the Charlotte, NC, area. Grab a free estimate for your project today.

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